There was once a time that weeks or months or even years would pass between an incident and the movie made about it. But in a modern TV world of instant gratification, apparently now a story can be put on film before its climax has even happened in real life.
On May 8, a jury in Maricopa County, Ariz., returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of first-
degree murder in the case of 32-year-old Californian Jodi Arias, a high-school dropout who pursued photography while working at a restaurant and in sales at PrePaid Legal Services.
On June 22, Lifetime airs "Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret," a TV movie inspired by the case, which was in production during the latter phases of the trial. Tania Raymonde ("Lost") stars as Arias, with Jesse Lee Soffer ("The Mob Doctor") as the victim, Travis Alexander.
David Zayas ("Dexter") plays Det. Esteban Flores, and Tony Plana ("Ugly Betty") plays prosecutor Juan Martinez. Jace Alexander ("Law & Order") directs from a script by Richard Blaney and Gregory Small.
At 26, in 2006, Arias met Travis Alexander, a 29-year-old motivational speaker and insurance salesman, at a conference in Las Vegas. The relationship quickly escalated into an intense connection over phone and email, with Alexander baptizing Arias into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November 2006.
The two began dating early the next year, and even as their emotional relationship waxed and waned, the physical one continued. After a breakup, they came back together for a day of sex, which ended in Alexander's violent death. His naked body -- shot, stabbed 27 times and with his throat slit -- was found in his shower on June 4, 2008.
Arias was later indicted on a charge of murder, after telling investigators and TV interviewers a variety of stories. On Jan. 2 of this year, after pleading not guilty, she finally went on trial, and the case became the subject of intense scrutiny on cable television and on the Internet.
The combination of sex, obsessive love and an attractive defendant proved irresistible to the media, which covered the trial as if it were a case of national importance rather than a gruesome local murder.
Going beyond the trial
While the trial became a real-life soap opera in itself, Jace Alexander says the movie is more about how Jodi and Travis got to that fateful day in 2008.
"We're really trying to examine that relationship," says Alexander, "and examine that evolution in a short period of time. The trial was really well covered, so many people were familiar every day with the details of that trial. But what people will hopefully get out of this is a deeper understanding -- and it's based on our imaginations.
"Biographical films rely mostly on the imaginative notions of what would happen behind closed doors, what was going on in those moments that we've only heard about in hearsay."
Since Arias was not a career criminal, "Dirty Little Secret" is more about the emotions that put a gun and knife in her hand.
"I didn't know anything about the case," says the director. "I didn't know who Jodi Arias was. I had never heard of her before I took this job. What drew me in was the universal truths that lay within these people, which were truths about wanting to find love and wanting to find companionship and wanting to find friendship."
Does 'love' lead to murder?
As for whether one can call what drove Arias to commit a particularly brutal murder "love," Alexander says, "No, I call it love, but it went the wrong way. I think she was deeply in love. All of us can recognize what it feels like, especially when you're a young person, which she was -- and not a person of the world, necessarily -- not worldly, to be so deeply in love that any departure from that is crushing.
"I do think it's love, and I think that love, throughout history, has caused some really tremendous issues on a global scale."
"I've been in relationships myself that had gone wrong," Raymonde says. "I've been in love with people that haven't been in love with me. I know what that feels like. I've had friends who had tumultuous, passionate, very up-and-down, very depressing, very difficult relationships in their lives.
"I tried to put in as much from my own experience as I possibly could, to create my own version of Jodi."
But even after the movie airs, the Arias saga won't be over. The jury deadlocked in the sentencing phase between the death penalty and life in prison, and the judge declared a mistrial. A second attempt at her trial's sentencing phase begins in July.
"Would I be capable of doing something like this?" Raymonde muses. "I would like to think not, but at the same time, I don't really know what I'm capable of."
True-crime TV movies, from Joey and Amy on
True-crime TV movies have been around since at least 1972's "The Longest Night," based on the 1968 kidnapping of heiress Barbara Jane Mackle, who survived being buried alive. More ripped-from-the-headlines telefilms include:
Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story (Lifetime, March 23, 2013) -- Eric McCormack starred as the upstate Orange County detective who captured the fratricidal Porco (Matt Barr). Convicted in 2006, Porco got an injunction that briefly delayed the movie's premiere.
Prosecuting Casey Anthony (Lifetime, Jan. 18, 2013) -- Examined the trial of the Florida woman acquitted in 2011 of the murder of her 2-year-daughter from the point of view of prosecutor Jeff Ashton (Rob Lowe).
Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime, Jan. 21, 2012), The Staircase Murders (Lifetime, April 15, 2007) and The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story (USA, Feb. 13, 2004) -- With, respectively, Rob Lowe as convicted wife killer Drew Peterson, Treat Williams as convicted wife killer Michael Peterson (currently on house arrest while awaiting a new trial) and Dean Cain as convicted wife killer Scott Peterson.
Natalee Holloway (Lifetime Movie Network, April 19, 2009) and Justice for Natalee Holloway (Lifetime, May 9, 2011) -- Tracy Pollan plays the mother of the missing and presumed dead Natalee, in a telefilm and its sequel on these sister networks.
All-American Girl: The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story (Lifetime, Jan. 18, 2000) -- Penelope Ann Miller played the Des Moines elementary-school teacher who served prison time for having a sexual relationship with one of her students.
The O.J. Simpson Story (Fox, Jan. 31, 1995) and American Tragedy (CBS, Nov. 12, 2000) -- The first, starring Bobby Hosea, aired while Simpson's real-life trial was ongoing. The second featured Raymond Forchion as Simpson and starred Ving Rhames and others as his defense team.
Amy Fisher: My Story (NBC, Dec. 28, 1992), Casualties of Love: The 'Long Island Lolita' Story (CBS, Jan. 3, 1993) and The Amy Fisher Story (ABC, Jan. 3, 1993) -- They starred, respectively, Noelle Parker, Alyssa Milano and Drew Barrymore. Two ran opposite each other the same night. And all three were ratings smashes.